Posts tagged Taiwan

My thoughts in the late 1980s on China’s pedagogy

The following is part of a paper I wrote for my education professor back in the winter of 1989. I had just returned from Harbin, China the summer of 1988 and wanted to finish my M.A. degree at the University of Minnesota.  I already knew what my thesis paper was going to be on.  I was looking at the learning styles of Chinese students in the academic setting in the U.S. and how they necessarily made their adjustments to our kind of pedagogy. I had three roommates who were Chinese, one from mainland and the other two from Taiwan. I was surrounded by a campus that had over 800 Chinese students studying at Minnesota.  That was the biggest delegation of Chinese students at an American university, it still may be 25 years later.

The reason I am writing this on my blog is to find out from people in Kazakhstan whether there are any similarities or differences in what I wrote yesterday and today.  I welcome your comments.

“My last point is how the Chinese students view grammar and vocabulary as all important. Since I taught in the Institute of Technology (Chinese version of M.I.T.), I had students in the sciences. Their knowledge of the technical language of English was very specific and specialized. They maybe knew 3,000 to 4,000 English words but did not know how to put words together to speak one sentence. Their want to amass a huge vocabulary in English probably goes back to their own having to learn so many Chinese characters from such an early age. There are about 50,000 characters in the Chinese dictionary, to be considered an intellectual you need to know about 15,000 of those characters. The common Chinese person to read the newspaper needs to know about 3,000 characters. Therefore, there is a heavy emphasis on knowing words and grammar.

The Chinese teachers who had to teach English to their classes clung desperately to the small part of text and made sure they knew all the grammar points possible.  This goes back to the teacher being the absolute authority and in total command of the classroom. If the students should even dare to ask that the teacher might not know how to answer, the teacher would most assuredly lose face. This was to be avoided at all costs so they presumed that we, as native speakers of English, knew all the answers to English grammar. (smile) We were asked a lot of grammar questions.

Our American approach to foreign language study is different in that we would still pay attention to grammar and vocabulary but more so to application of the language. Trial and error is permissible in the American setting and this goes back to the student-centered concept of learning.  (It also hearkens back to our land was created by many immigrant groups who arrived and struggled to learn English as their second language)

After many attempts at changing from Confucian thoughts, through surviving revolutions, the Confucian influence is still prevalent within the Chinese classroom. It continues to be teacher-centered, textbook-centered and grammar-centered. Perhaps the Chinese will try to adopt some of our teaching methodologies to aid in their attempt to quickly learn the English language. However, I believe that for the most part, education is culture bound. The Chinese culture can no more get rid of Confucian ways any more than we can relinquish Socratic influences in our own educational system. The two are very dissimilar and yet both methodologies have the same goal in mind, to teach those that want to learn.”

Leave a comment »

More Travel Memories of East Coast China

Continued from yesterday’s blog post:

One particular January in 1988, my American friend and I started our trip to Hong Kong by traveling the east coast of China.  Our first stop was Shan Hai Guan, the beginning of the Great Wall of China situated on the Bohai Sea.  Interesting to take pictures of the frozen swirls of the tide.  Looking at old pictures of this part of the amazing structure, you know why it is called the “Head of the Dragon.”

Both being single at the time, we sat on a famous rock with Chinese characters engraved into it reading: “Woman Waiting for Her Husband.”  We learned of past horrors visited upon the Chinese people while men were building the Great Wall.  Perhaps this rendition is more legend than true story, but just the same, I’m sure many men did die as they built this edifice that can be seen from the moon.  Here is the summary:

Some newlyweds were about to enjoy their wedding night together when came a rude interruption.  The groom was seized and ordered by the emperor to put in hard labor at the Great Wall.  After his wife had waited for his return, she remembered that he did not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the colder weather.  When she arrived with an extra bundle to where he was working on the Wall, his co-workers told her that her husband had already died.  He had been buried alive under the rubble of the Great Wall.  When hearing this tragic news, the young wife began to cry and the heavens opened up and it began to rain.  It rained so hard that part of the Wall broke loose to reveal his remains.

Sad story yes, so my friend and I kept traveling south convinced that singleness might be better for us after all.  We next traveled to the seaport city of Shanghai.  We could hear a lot of the boat traffic on the river especially along the famous boulevard, the Bund.  We were told that during Chairman Mao’s tyrannical reign, his wife was even obsessed with the power he had.  Whenever she visited Shanghai, she would order that all river traffic stop so that she could sleep at night.  Each boat gave its own toot, bellow, horn or whistle. What a welcome relief for the Chinese when Mao’s wife was sentenced to imprisonment for her many crimes against the people.

I always liked to listen to the music of the people who knew how to play their traditional Chinese instruments. The haunting, lilting sounds of the peepaw (my spelling) and the erho (er=two and ho= strings) instruments were so unusual to my western ears.  We left Shanghai for Hengzhou, said to be one of the most beautiful cities in China.  I was also informed that the most beautiful women were found in Hengzhou.  Or was it Suzhou, obviously I wasn’t looking at women and I was still waiting for my husband…

I digress; we enjoyed seeing West Lake and also going high atop North Peak.  At that time there was a cable car to give us an overlook of the sites of Hengzhou.  My friend and I went to the famous Linyin temple where many brightly colored and freshly painted Buddhas were worshipped.  Fortunately, from a tourist’s perspective, this temple was NOT destroyed because of all the history behind it.  The Cultural Revolution found many Red Guards tearing down building structures and these vandals destroyed much other of their own Hengzhou history.

We were not allowed to take photos of the 50-foot statues of the Buddhas. Also, there was no way of capturing and bottling the smell of burning incense at the altars.  The whole place was filled with an overpowering, thick smell of incense from years and years of worshipping the big guy sitting on his haunches.

We were fortunate to take a tour of the largest silk factory in Asia when we visited Hengzhou.  At that time this factory employed 6,000 workers, using three shifts that worked around the clock.  We were shown the cocoon that the silk worm uses. I still have the ones I bought as decorative pieces which were cut into small tulips on a stem.  Our tour guide told us that the cocoons were boiled for 12 minutes before the girls gather eight together to spin into a single thread.  They make sure that the single thread does not break before it gets on to the big spindles that kept rotating.

Trivia we learned: Did you know that it takes 700 cocoons to make one skein of silk?  The thread is silky soft and pure white.  This pure silk thread is dyed in different colors and put on smaller spools.  What we observed was that a pattern like a computer punch out card was used with the appropriate color punched through the hole on the bolt of the red fabric. Whew, I wonder how many modern-day slaves are actually being used to do this manual labor or maybe it has all been mechanized by now.

We left Hengzhou to take a train to Xiamen or what had been formerly known as Amoy.  We stayed on the island of Gulangyu, which is adjacent to Xiamen. Cars and motorcycles were prohibited on this place, not even bicycles were allowed. How nice to not have to worry about being run down by anyone while walking on this island. We were told that on the peak, you could see Taiwan on a clear day.

I felt like I could really relax at this place which used to be a resort island for the Europeans.  One particular guesthouse on this tranquil island was a beautiful mansion in its day.  It looked like it had earlier served as a private dwelling judging by the gate on the outside. It may have been owned by a British family with their family crest at the top of the gate, but you could only see the traces left that it had been built in 1935.

Naturally any other reminders of European habitation had been scratched out.  We understood from the locals that the Red Guard had defaced many stately buildings and this particular mansion was no exception.  The Cultural Revolution during 1966-76 was a dangerous time for any foreigner who remained in China.  The buildings the Europeans left behind took quite a beating, I’m wondering how the former foreign owners of this building fared.

By the end of our trip with our destination as Hong Kong, we took another overnight 17 hours on an ocean liner from Xiamen. We had already logged in 70 hours by train from Harbin with all our other touristy stops along the East Coast of China. I can’t remember much about our return trip to Harbin but I’m sure it didn’t take as long if we took the direct train route from Guangzhou to Beijing and then from Beijing to Harbin.  I DO remember that taking this trip one January was like doing a 100-degree drop in temperature almost from Harbin to Hong Kong.

(to be continued with my trip to China in 2000 and 2001 – what a change!)

Leave a comment »

Proverbs from Around the World

When I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) in northern Virginia for three years, I had students from all over the globe.  However, during that time from 1995-1998, I do not recall having any students from Kazakhstan.  Perhaps Kazakhs were still dealing with many issues back in their home country after being under communism for 70 years.  I wonder how many of the samples of proverbs I got from my ESL students from around the world during that time, would fit with Kazakh proverbs.  The world would be a richer place if only we knew even 10 per cent of Kazakh proverbs.  Try to figure out the meanings of the following proverbs:

Vietnam – “Near the ink, you will be black, near the lamp, you will be bright.”


Thailand – “Love your cow, have to tie it; love your children, have to discipline.”


Eritrea – “The person who tries to get butter from water and the person who needs good things from his enemy is the same.”


Argentina – “The devil knows more from being old than from being devil.”


Taiwan – “When God wants a man to be a great one, He will exhaust his mind, exercise his body and take all the things he has.”


Peru – “Each person dances with his own handkerchief.”


Brazil – “When you pass away, your body will lie in a coffin and your tongue in a wagon.”


Korea – “Three inches of tongue can kill the righteous man.”


Ethiopia – “A tongue doesn’t have teeth, but it can break another’s bones.”


Iran – “An egg thief will be a camel thief.”


China – “Clumsy birds have to start flying early.”


United Arab Emirates – “Whoever wants honey should keep up with the bee’s sting.”


Guatemala – “Eyes that don’t see make a senseless heart.”


Japan – “Monkeys fall from the tree too.”


Vietnam – “If the mandarin (orange) skin is thick, there will be a sharpened nail to pierce it.”


El Salvador – “Fish and visitor smell in three days.”


El Salvador – “The habit don’t make the monk.”

Leave a comment »